Saturday, September 19, 2009

To be Gond in London

“I never set out to be an artist. My mother painted the walls of our home, as is our tradition, 
and she would ask me to help her paint the parts she couldn’t reach!” Bhajju Shyam

Jangarh Singh Shyam, wall paintings in the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha

The Gonds, or Gondi, are a people of central India. They consider art a form of prayer, and their songs,
dances, myths, folk tales and rituals all reflect a close bond with nature. The cow dung plastered walls 
of Gond houses are beautifully hand decorated with digna (a traditional geometric pattern) and bhittichitra 
(a composition of animals, leaves and flowers) during weddings and other festivities. Similarly to Australian
 Aboriginal art, Gond paintings are characterised by a unique texture created by patterns. The artist starts 
with an outline, which is then filled with flat colors, left to dry, and finally covered with elaborate patterning.
 Originally, the colors are produced with four different colored mud collected by women in the forest.

Jangarh Singh Shyam, ink on paper

Bhajju Shyam was born in 1971 in Patangarh, a Gond village in the forest. The family sent their three children
 to school, but could not afford to put them all through the full term. At sixteen Bhajju left home and moved 
to the city of Bhopal, where he became the apprentice to his artist uncle Jangarh Singh Shyamthe first Gondi
 to draw on paper and canvas and exhibit his work outside the village. Bhajju started by filling in the patterns
 on his uncle’s large canvases, but having noticed his talent, Jangarh encouraged him to strike out on his own
 (after Jangarh's untimely death in 2000, a number of other members of his family and tribe have become
 professional artists, including his widow Nankusia, daughter Japani and son Mayank). 
Bhajju’s work began to be known throughout India, and had his first international exposure 
in 1998 as part of a group exhibition at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.
The London Jungle Book – my copy is from the 2004 Italian edition published by Adelphi
In 2001 Bhajju was commissioned to paint the interiors of a chic Indian restaurant in London. After his return 
to India, Sirish Rao and Gita Wolf, the publishers at Tara books, encouraged and helped him to turn his travel
 experiences into an illustrated book. Before his trip, Bhajju had very little knowledge of English language and
 culture, and his observations of city life are innocent, humorous, full of wonder, and totally unconventional. 
His beautiful visual diary turns London into a fantastic jungle inhabited by many gigantic creatures: 
elephant-airplanes, eagle-airports, dog-buses, earthworm-undergound trains and a Big Ben-rooster. 
There's even Bhajju's take on Damien Hirst's dissected cow. This insightful tribal perspective 
on Western modern life is published in six languages, including English.
Loyal Friend Number 30

The Undergound King

The Miracle Of Flight

What Am I Eating – Bhajju turns into an octopus to be able to eat all the things on the restaurant's menu
The Night Life of Trees by Durga Bai, Bhajju Shyam and Ram Singh Urveti
The Night Life of Trees, another stunning Tara Publishing production, showcases works by Bajju and 
fellow Gond artists Durga Bai and Ram Singh UrvetiTara’s publishers came up with the idea for the book 
after having noticed, during one of their illustrators’ workshops, that Gond artists included trees in all
of their drawings. That's because in the belief of the traditionally forest dwelling Gong, trees are connected 
to gods and contain the cosmos. The spirit of many things lives in trees, and in the dark of night, the spirits'
 secret world springs to life. Originally conceived as an art book, The Night Life of Trees won the prestigious
Bologna Children's Book Fair “New Horizons” Award (the first Indian title to do so).

Tara has just published another illustrated another book by Bhajju ShyamThe Flight of the Mermaid
a new tribal perspective on Andersen's classic tale. Tara's books are all handmade, created in their workshop 
by a commune of twelve craftspeople from local villages, using silk-screen and letterpress printing 
on handmade paper. You can watch an interesting video about the production process here.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent! Gosh, I really feel as if I've been missing something. I've never heard of the Gonds or Bahjju. Some beautiful illustrations here. I think I need to read all this again...



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